My life is blessed. That is not to say my life is always easy, but it is a life of miracles. There is suffering and there is transcendence. There is often a question that lingers on my lips as I reflect on the challenges. When I think of those who suffer in the world, those whom I know have lost houses, those who have lost family, those who live in war zones, those who struggle for essential physical needs… I ask myself what right I have to reflect on these challenges. Then again, pain is pain, regardless of who is feeling it or how justified one is in experiencing it.
My baptism into the world of adulthood came within the context of an unprecedented terrorist attack on American soil followed by an undeclared and indefinite war, a first black president followed by a demagogue, and a financial crisis followed by an economic “boom” built on spreadsheets and executive bonuses rather than jobs and living wages. I come from an age defined by a cacophony of information. It is an age where there is never an absence of data but often a shortage of wisdom. At the same time, having the blessing of being raised with John-Roger and these Teachings, the peaceful eye of the storm and center point of my life continues to be my spiritual practice and my devotion to my spiritual path.
I often feel I am standing at the meeting point of worlds, where I live to serve John-Roger 24 hours a day while addressing the everyday physical experience of this apparent reality the best way I know how. Walking through this period of my life, experiencing a world so fast-paced and so saturated with noise, I choose to go inward toward the interior spaces, the expanses, the opening into each breath… This pause between moments—where fast and shallow give way to slow and deep—is where I find me.
There has never been a time, in my recollection, of greater challenge or greater evolution for me than this past year. Now, more than ever, the footsteps of my life can transform in an instant into a familiar vertigo of my foot searching ground and finding only thin air. What can I do but hold fast in my devotion and trust in God?
Recently, I was reading Psalm 23, as I have often done as a way of closing each day, and it felt so applicable to my life. For me, Psalm 23 is so descriptive of my own experience of deepening in my faith and trust in God. When I experience the Lord as my shepherd and I am put in situations that I know are safe, green pastures and beside still waters, faith is easy. When I am in an environment where I can’t see whether I am safe, a dark valley vulnerable to unknown dangers, but I can rely on direct assurance of God, the “rod” and “staff,” faith is challenging. Yet, when I am asked to be vulnerable in the presence of known danger, to sit at a table and perform a sacred act in the presence of my “enemies,” faith can feel nearly impossible. When I have the courage to do that, despite the reasonable urge to retreat, I find that I am already dwelling in the house of the Lord: my Heart.
I have found that often this moment of truth—this moment of absolute faith and trust in the presence of my “enemies” (often within me)—comes to me in the form of being vulnerable and truly honest with myself and others. I have come to this place where I would rather be in honesty and mistaken than dishonest and “right.” Truthfully, I would prefer to be honest and accurate, but I am also very human and prone to human error… Thank God.
I have often received advice and feedback from others that seems to work conceptually but conflicts with my direct experience. In my mind I may know that the advice is “right.” Sometimes, this advice can come with a “J-R Says” attached. My response is usually: “That’s really valuable information. It doesn’t change what I am experiencing right now but I am really looking forward to exploring what you have shared.” It’s not enough anymore that things conceptually make sense. It needs to resonate through all of me or I can’t own with integrity that it is true for me. So, the key is to be honest and that often means owning that I don’t know many things and that I may not be the way someone wants me to be. I have also found this honesty to be equally, if not more, important in my relationship with God inside of me.
Recently, I have been reading The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language and have been struck by the power of the content when presented in common English. The author, Eugene Peterson, was a pastor who started his career as a scholar of biblical Hebrew and Greek. One of Peterson’s reasons for creating this translation of the Bible is that he sees versions such as the King James Version to be wonderful works of literature but ineffective at inviting common people to prayer: “[W]e tend to think that prayer is what good people do when they are doing their best. It is not. Inexperienced, we suppose that there must be an ‘insider’ language that must be acquired before God takes us seriously in our prayer. There is not. Prayer is elemental, not advanced, language. It is the means by which our language becomes honest, true, and personal in response to God.” (Peterson, 2002)
I have started wondering how often I condition my relationship to God. I have heard John-Roger say that “dishonesty forfeits Divine aid” and I have often related to this more around the way I choose to express. I wonder now if honesty could be more fundamental. I have also heard John-Roger define honesty as “Hon-est” or “one with what is.” Perhaps dishonesty simply places something other than our whole self with open arms in the way of receiving the assistance and support for which we pray.
It seems there can be a temptation for me to pray from an idea of who I should be rather than who I am now. I have prayed as the one I thought I was or should be. I have prayed with words that sound spiritual or poetic. I am not saying this was wrong, but I also wonder if I was truly in honesty when I did that. I wonder how open to God’s support I was in my conceptions of rightness or my ego image of myself.
Now, in this place of vulnerability in my life, my intention has become to pray from the totality of my Self. The shadow in me is no less a part of this than all that I appreciate about my Self. As I call out into the cathedral of my heart, “Please God, show me how I can walk with you in each step, show me how I can know you more fully within me…”, I become less and less concerned with being “right” or looking smart. The desire for appearing a certain way gives way to a deep thirst for God, everywhere and constantly.
As often as I once prayed from an idea of me, I have prayed in single syllables, choked between tears. I have prayed with my eyes as I stared with complete vulnerability and loving into the heart of another. I have prayed in total willingness to be corrected by God. I have prayed for the strength to let go of all that I have placed between me and unconditional loving.
Sometimes I wonder how the loving could be so deep and still get deeper. I wonder if this ocean has a bottom. I wonder how I could become so full I feel as if I cannot contain it. I feel the loving within me like a quaking or trembling in the presence of infinity. Now, as I am saying this, I realize the words have little correlation to the experience. Yet, somehow there is value in giving voice to this moment, no matter how far my words are from the truth.
God bless you. I love you. May we all know in this moment the Peace that surpasses understanding.